Top Ten Distinguishing Features Of An Original 1940s Vintage Dress

Top Ten Distinguishing Features Of An Original 1940s Vintage Dress

Not an exhaustive list, but here I summarise some of the most common features to look for when dating and buying forties women’s clothing, dresses in particular. I have included an example of each type of feature. I have numbered them head to toe to help you visualise the overall silhouette.

1. Necklines

Notch Neckline

There were several styles of neckline popular for womens 40s fashion. Most were fairly modest, they include sweetheart, scoop, slit or notch as shown here. Common collars were the shirt style revere collar, shawl or wing which were both one-piece fold back varieties.

2. Sleeve Heads

Sleeve Heads

Sleeve heads or crowns as they are also known were generally high with gathers or a double pleat. Sleeves themselves varied in length but usually fairly plain and fitted. Three-quarter or elbow-length sleeves were common.

3. Shoulder Pads

The shoulder pads on forties garments were usually small and hand made from fabric scraps. Filled with whatever wadding type material was available. A strong square shoulder shape was the goal. Giving the wearer a slightly masculine upper body shape but then it also emphasised a nipped-in waist. Sometimes you will find empty shoulder pad outers where the original padding material has perished away leaving a horrible sandy residue.

4. Elbow Darts

Elbow Darts

Single or double even triple as illustrated here, sleeve darts were there to offer strength and shaping plus allow movement at the elbow on a snug-fitting sleeve.

5. Yokes


A yoke took it's name from the control wheel, a device used for piloting a fixed-wing aircraft. In the same way, it is a dressmaking term meaning a flat fixed area of fabric. You will find yokes in the forties across the shoulders front and back. They were sometimes curved or pointed all with soft gathers creating fullness at the bust. Shirring & smocking were also common in those areas.

6. Side Fastening

Side Fastening

1940s dresses were nearly always fastened at the left side. Usually with a metal zip or small press studs. Even if the bodice buttoned through at the front or back you will usually find an additional side opening.  Hips tend to be the widest part of a woman's figure so an opening there does make a lot of sense.

7. Buttons & Rouleau Loops

Rouleau Fastening

Another popular feature of a forties frock were small round fabric-covered buttons with multiple loops in the same fabric to fasten across. Sometimes they were working openings but when this was deemed too time-consuming they were often used as a decorative faux opening.

8. Waist Panels

Waist Panels

Not always the case but many dresses had a deep waistband, plain or shaped into a V or curve. They act as a basque to pull in the waistline. Alternatively, some 40s vintage dresses have a plain waist seam with the addition of a peplum which is a short overskirt.

9. Skirt Style

Usually, swing style with several panels. The beauty of this type of skirt is it does not add extra volume at the hips like a gathered dirndl style yet ensures plenty of fullness at the hem for walking and dancing. It's still one of the most flattering skirt shapes today. A standard length was 27" waist to hem.

10. Popular Fabrics

Gritty textured crepes, silk such as crepe de chine, linen and Rayon as a silk substitute were all commonly used. The dresses were usually unlined as petticoat slips were normally worn separately.

Revival Socialite Range

We have ensured our own range of replica vintage dresses includes as many of these features as possible. See how many you can count from these three designs taken from original 1940s dresses.

Socialite Replica 40s Dresses

1 comment

I love to look at your dresses and suits just wished I lived nearer

Jane Hall September 14, 2023

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